It Isn’t Easy Being Green

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Hand over mouth, eyes searching to make sure no one unsafe is within ear shot, she leans toward us conspiratorially. And then she makes a wild confession. My reaction is one of relief. Phew! I’m not the only one.

“Sometimes I run my dishwasher when it’s only half full!” She looks like the admission might result in her being struck dead by a bolt of lightning.

As is often the case, one admission leads to another. Here we were, a group of smart, environmentally conscious and generally aware moms admitting our deepest darkest environmental sins.

“I use plastic bags in my trash can.”

“I drive around with plastic bags in my car, hoping to come across a grocery store that still recycles them. I finally lose it and throw them in the trash.”

“I use non-biodegradable bags to pick up dog poop.”

“I use Ziplock bags and then throw them away instead of reusing them.”

As we stand talking, I diagnose this as a not-yet-recognized syndrome: eco-guilt.

Living in Boulder, CO

It doesn’t help that I live in Boulder, CO, one of the Green Capitals of the US. Don’t get me wrong–I’m proud of my community where there are tons of year-round bike commuters (even in the snow!), public transportation, curbside recycling and composting, lots of green buildings, a Prius on every block, abundant solar panels, and an overall commitment to doing right by this earth of ours.

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Beachcoming on the Darkside

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I walk along the beach with deliberate steps, peering at the ground. My eyes scan sand, rocks, seaweed, shells. Small waves lap the shore. A line clinks against a mast. I step, look ahead, step, look right, look ahead, step, look left. The shadow of a seagull passes overhead. I feel sun on the back of my neck, see a glint, pause, reach down. Nope. Just a rock.

White—good. Green or brown—better. Blue or red or yellow or orange—heart stopping.

I am looking for sea glass. It’s a love, a passion. No, an obsession. I have jars of it at home, collected over the years on various beaches but there’s never enough. Every beach, every day, holds the possibility of more. And still, finding the next piece is like finding the first. There’s a thrill, a jump of my heart, a smugness, a satisfaction at the discovery of yet another piece. I reach down, pick it up and close it into my fist.

And it’s good, the hunting, the looking. It’s relaxing and exciting. Until. I see someone else walking down the beach with a clenched hand or carrying a bag or a cup. My heart jumps, beats faster. I feel an edge of panic, a splash of indignation. I draw a sharp breath, clench my jaw. Because I want to know, need to know, what they are collecting. Sea shells, heart shaped rocks, skipping rocks? Fine. Sea glass? Not fine. No, they should STEP AWAY FROM THE SEA GLASS.

I amble over, make small talk, act friendly. Hmmm, what are you collecting? If it isn’t sea glass, I like them, they are a friend. Sea glass? A tightness in my throat. They are foe. I want to know if they’ve found anything good. If not, I (shamefully) feel gleeful. If so, I feel ugly envy. I smile at them either way but, in the second case, it is false.

Later, I walk the beach with my twelve year-old niece. When we both come upon a piece of glass at the same time, I concede and let her have it but this is more painful than I care to admit. I do this with some grace (if with internally gritted teeth) but it’s a relatively non-coveted white/clear piece. Giving up a brown or green piece would make me cringe. And honestly, I might have acted shamefully if we both happened upon the coveted blue, yellow or red at the same time. Luckily my mettle isn’t tested.

If we both tripped upon a gold piece lying on the beach, it would be easier for me to cede it to her than it would be to allow her to have a piece of red or pink sea glass. An entire bathtub full of pieces of sea glass would not be enough to satisfy me. I like to look at them, sort them, pour them thru my fingers. There is something about their burnished, tumbled surface and edges that makes me want to touch them, look at them and hunt for more of them.

People do crazy things for objects that have far more actual value. But I, I might take someone to the mat over a piece of red sea glass.

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